As you all know, the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act created the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC), which provides an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits provided by the federal government on top of each state’s standard jobless benefit for those who have lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond the extra $600 a week, the federal government funded 13 additional weeks of unemployment insurance benefits for workers who have exhausted their state benefits. Thus, workers in New York were eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. With this program, most people were able to receive 39 weeks of unemployment insurance. This ended in July 2020.
Livery Bases (and other businesses in New York State) found relief through the state’s “Shared Work Program”. The Shared Work Program gave employers an alternative to laying off employees when they have downturns in business. Rather than laying off a percentage of the workforce to cut costs, an employer can reduce the hours and wages of all or a group of employees. The employees whose hours and wages have been reduced can receive partial unemployment benefits to supplement their lost wages. The Shared Work Program helps employers avoid some of the burdens that accompany a layoff situation and helped employees by sparing them the hardships of full unemployment.
The Shared Work Program also allowed employees who suffered a reduction in hours to collect partial unemployment benefits. Under the Shared Work Program, the weekly amount of unemployment benefits one could receive was connected to the percentage your hours and wages have been reduced. The Shared Work allows you to collect partial unemployment benefits if your hours and wages have been reduced by 20% to 60%. For instance, if your work hours and wages have been reduced by 20% on a given week, you may receive 20% of your unemployment weekly benefit rate.
No one could have predicted that the pandemic would last as long as it has. Similarly, no one could predict that in January of 2021, eight months after the first federal aid of $600 per week was launched, there would be another federal enhanced benefit, this time of $300 per week. The problem is that although a Shared Work Program may be approved for up to 53 weeks, employers are limited to a maximum of 26 weeks of Shared Work unemployment benefits.
Given that the CARES Act ended December 26, 2020, Livery bases (and other businesses in New York State) were no longer eligible for the Shared Work program because the maximum of 26 weeks of Shared Work unemployment benefits had expired. As a result of the problems facing the livery industry, The Livery Round Table (LRT) started searching for a solution to the problems we faced. As a result of the efforts of The Livery Round Table, particularly, Dr. Avik Kabessa, a founding member of the LRT, it was discovered that there was an anomaly in the language of the New York Shared Work Program, as compared to the Federal CARES Act.
The New York State Shared Work Program language places a cap on companies to be only eligible able to use the Shared Work program to provide partial unemployment benefits for 26 weeks in a year. Under New York law, unemployment benefits are only available for 26 weeks, regardless of the total amount collected in those 26 weeks.
On the other hand, Section 2108 of the Federal CARES Act allows an employee to be paid up to 26 times the normal rate of their eligible benefits. Thus, employees in New York who have employees with reduced hours are at a disadvantage over fully unemployed persons.
For example, under New York law, a fully (100%) unemployed person is allowed to collect up to $504 (the maximum weekly benefit in New York) per week for 26 weeks. On the other hand, a person who suffered a 50% reduction in hours and collects $252/week (half of what the fully unemployed person collects), would only be eligible to collect such benefits for 26 weeks.
Under the federal law, the person who suffered a 50% reduction in hours is eligible for 52 weeks (double the number of weeks the fully unemployed can collect unemployment) of partial unemployment benefits, instead of 26 weeks under the New York state law, and the state is eligible for the reimbursement of that expense.
Due to the problems the industry faced and being armed with this anomaly, a potential solution via “corrective legislation” arose. In other words, we needed to find a New York State Senator to sponsor a bill and find a New York Assembly member to do the same.
As you know, for a bill to become law, it must be identical in language in the Senate and in the Assembly, it needs to pass in the Senate and in the Assembly, and then it needs to be signed into law by the Governor.
Thankfully, we found New York State Senator Jessica Ramos to champion our cause, and she was able to pass the bill in the Senate on March 1, 2021. Unfortunately, finding an Assembly member to sponsor the bill and to pass it was much harder and took longer. Luckily, we were able to locate Assembly member Latoya Joyner to sponsor the bill in the Assembly.
It gives the LRT great pleasure to announce that on May 25, 2021, the Senate and the Assembly passed the bill, which is now waiting Governor Cuomo’s signature for it to become law.
Thanks to the hard work of the LRT, once the bill is signed into law, employees who remain partially unemployed will be able to immediately benefit from this legislative action.
Let us hope that in short order we will not need to use the Shared Work Program or unemployment and that all employees will be back to work full time as if it were pre-COVID. But it is satisfying to know that when times were tough, the LRT thought outside of the box to find a solution to a problem. It is gratifying to know that we made a change for the benefit of not just the livery industry, but for the entire workforce in general. I am grateful.